Parenting for Powerful Learning: 35 Tips

The first job of parents as Chief Growth Officer is to make learning a priority (as discussed last week). That means making school and schoolwork a priority. But there’s a lot more you can do without a lot of extra effort or expense to make every day a learning journey. All you have to do is take 10 seconds before dinner, a trip to the store, or a walk around the block and ask, “How could this be a learning experience?”

With the help of the #SmartParents on team Getting Smart, following are 35 potentially powerful learning experiences. The first 20 prompts are aimed at learners aged 8-12 (but could easily flex up or down).

Dinner table prompts

  • What did you most enjoy about today? Why?
  • Was there anything hard about your day? How did you work through it?
  • What’s your opinion about what’s happening in the news? What’s your evidence?

Outdoor adventure

  • Ask children to conduct a short research project to learn something new.
  • Ask children to create a photo journal and presentation.
  • Go on a neighborhood walk or nature walk and ask, “What do you see?”

Taking a trip

  • Ask each child to pick a journal topic (e.g., animals, sports, architecture, characters) and report out at the end of the trip (here’s a great example from a traveling family).
  • Plot your trip on the map and track your progress using GPS. Bonus points for trying Geocaching!

Night out

  • Pick a play or musical together and do 30 minutes of research together on the topic and author.
  • Pick a symphony concert and spend 30 minutes supporting a musical comparison

Night in

  • Pick a documentary movie and then have a movie review and discussion
  • Create a SOLE (self-organized learning environment) at home; learn more about anything
  • Sign up for Big History Project and talk about how we got here.

Plan a meal

  • Ask the kids to pick a theme, research recipe, build a grocery list, and cook a meal.
  • Write a review of a home meal or restaurant meal (you may end up on Yelp!).

Make something

  • Before you throw away that big box, leave it in the living room with some markers and see what magic unfolds before your eyes.

Summer school

  • Ask for a monthly blog about a book (a good excuse to launch a learning blog).
  • Ask for a plan for a new business.


  • Start or join a family book club.
  • Organize a “book swap” with a friend. Trade books with a journal where you tell why you picked that book to share and ask your friend to then offer their opinion on the book too.

High school. By experiencing success in what’s next, high school students gain valuable knowledge, skills and dispositions. There are 15 experiences every high school student deserves. If it doesn’t look like they will gain from these experiences in school, then make it a priority during family time.

  • Enjoyment of high quality challenging literature.
  • Success reading and writing technical and information texts.
  • Calculating probabilities and using algebraic thinking to solve problems.
  • Conducting scientific investigations and reporting results to public audiences.
  • Producing a professional quality publication and multimedia presentation.
  • Making and coding thing they are proud of.
  • Positive and challenging work experiences in several settings.
  • The rewards of community service.
  • Visual and performing art.
  • World language fluency.
  • Demonstrating personal wellness.
  • Completing a course online.
  • Building a brand and selling a product.
  • Teamwork and project management.
  • Earning college credit–on campus if possible.


This blog is part of our Smart Parents Series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. We would love to have your voice in the Smart Parents conversations. To contribute a blog, ask a question, or for more information, email Bonnie Lathram with the subject “Smart Parents.” For more information about the project see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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